Jess and the Bandits are a band that we featured in one of our artist spotlight ‘Introducing…‘ posts in August last year, ahead of the release of the lead single from their upcoming debut album. On 5th April that first record, ‘Here We Go Again’ is released and could not arrive at a more exciting time for the band. In the lead up to this year’s Country to Country festival Jess and the Bandits performed as part of the Country Collective show at London’s Canary Wharf and were a huge hit. This was followed by two standout pop-up stage performances at C2C itself, including a fabulous set in the Brooklyn Bowl on Day 1, where I was lucky enough to be in attendance, and was hugely impressed by the five-piece.
Listening to ‘Here We Go Again’ and recalling the band’s live performance there is no escaping the fact, and I am sure that the other band members will agree, the jewel in the crown here is Jessica Clemmons. Lead singer Jess not only acts as a driving force co-writing all but one of the album’s tracks in Nashville, she also possesses an outstanding voice, blessed with both huge power and incredible charm. The aforementioned lead single ‘My Name Is Trouble‘ was a perfect example of this, a breathless Country-stomp of a track. Big electric guitar solo, swirling steel guitar fills and hand claps aplenty challenge Jess to deliver an electric vocal on a terrific cut. Current single is the mid-tempo ‘You Can’t Stop Me’, if anything a stronger effort than its predecessor. The production on the track is incredible, the gentler verses build delightfully to a big crowd-pleasing chorus, leaning towards pop-Country but at its absolute finest.
Rocking hook-up song ‘Ready Set’ acts as the perfect way to kick-off the album, and let the listener know exactly what they are in store for. Pounding percussion, gritty electric guitar and (yes, you guessed it!) a powerhouse vocal from Jess combine to definitely get you ready, set, going. In 2013 Jess released ‘What If’ a solo Country EP, which was reviewed on the ‘old’ NCUK site to glowing praise, the majority of tracks from which re-appear on ‘Here We Go Again’, given an impressive Jess and the Bandits makeover. One of those is ‘Love Like That‘ a power-ballad describing the kind of love we all search for, strong steel guitar and powerful harmonies on the soaring chorus explain why the track was re-cut.
The band get the chance to raise the temperature again with back-to-back uptempo tracks ‘Wanted Man’ & ‘Nitty Gritty’. The former finds the lead singer determined to get her man ‘no way you’re gonna resist when I get my kiss on your lips, baby understand…you’re a wanted, wanted man‘ is an offer many of us would struggle to refuse, especially when it is sung this well. One of the highlights of the band’s C2C set for me personally was the glorious ‘Nitty Gritty’ with its infectious Country groove and message of self-acceptance. Hearing the studio version is equally thrilling, the swampy-feel of the guitar riff provides a glorious bed to the taut verses before a dazzling chorus. If this song fails to get you moving I am not sure there is much hope for you!
‘If You Can’t Be Mine’ is a delicious slice of contemporary Country music, a mid-tempo track that would fit perfectly on US Country radio. Slick production, strongly written and note-perfectly performed. One thing the album proves without doubt is JATB really know how to ‘sell’ a chorus, this song adds to the growing collection of memorable hooks. Despite boasting a lead singer tailor-made for big ballads ‘Here We Go Again’ is surprisingly liberal with its inclusion of these, however ‘What If’ ticks that box with serious aplomb. Finding the singer unsure if she would be more afraid of rejection in love, or of the regret of not taking the risk, it manages to be a captivating track. The doubt is evident in Jess’s tender vocals during the slow-building verses with their gentle piano & steel backing, and then there it is…a stormer of a chorus and an astonishing goosebump-inducing vocal. Tremendous.
Suffering in comparison to some of its stronger counterparts here, rocker ‘Drunk On Me’ is enjoyable but fails to offer anything to make it stick in the memory. ‘Getting Into Something’ serves up cutting-edge Country, the fast-flowing lyrics in the verses delivered in an almost rap style with references to ‘dance floors’ & ‘music pumping’. Some may find it a little too Pop for their tastes but it retains more than enough Country charm to please the more broad-minded, including myself. The title track is not the upbeat toe-tapper you would expect, instead an anguished ballad describing ‘two fools who can’t let go, of a dead end love that always ends the same‘. The desperation of the situation is conveyed perfectly in Jess’s delivery, with sympathetic steel guitar standing out in the potent choruses.
A smoky bar is the setting for ‘Single Tonight’ an excellent honky-tonker of a track, one of the most traditional-Country sounding cuts on the album. Chugging electric guitar, lashings of steel guitar & fabulous honky-tonk piano take us back to Jess’s Texan roots in great style. The album closes with a piano-led, slowed down recording of the Glen Campbell classic ‘Wichita Lineman’, first recorded back in 1968. Incredibly atmospheric this cover of a song voted by Rolling Stone magazine as No.192 in the ‘500 Greatest Songs Of All Time’ is definitely original enough to justify its inclusion and acts like a hugely satisfying bonus track.
Jessica Clemmons is a proud Texan, whilst her bandits Dave Troke, Louis Riccardi, Ricci Riccardi & Steve Reid Williams are all British, so the blossoming UK Country scene can surely lay part claim to Jess and the Bandits. We certainly should, with ‘Here We Go Again’ they have delivered a hugely accomplished and infinitely listenable Country album. Crammed full of strong original material, ace musicianship and outstanding vocals, the record also benefits from the gloss of exceptional production. One of the very best of 2015 so far. ‘Here We Go Again’ is released on 5th April and you can pre-order it now.